One of the quirks of the offseason is that everything is put into question...and yet nothing changes.
Every offseason the same questions get asked. What's happening with the prospects? How's payroll? Who's going to be playing [enter position here] on opening day? Who's on the market? Are we trading for this year or for future seasons?
The reason we're all so interested in the offseason is because the answers are never the same.
One answer in particular should be a point of interest for Twins fans over the coming weeks. For years it's been no secret that Terry Ryan covets his prospects. It's how we built a team to win three consecutive division titles. It's how we had a plethora of minor league pitchers in 2005 that, combined, may have been as competetive as certain MLB rotations. It was our return on Dougie Baseball, Knobby and A.J.
If there's an issue with hoarding prospects, it's that at some point they need to bring about fruition in the form of not just a competetive ballclub but one that can reach the playoffs. Tampa Bay has a number of young players who, as of 2005, haven't been able to reach the next level. Why they haven't improved can be attributed to any number of things: coaching, leadership, weak links, Boston and New York. The question that arrises is this: when do prospects stop showing potential for winning and start showing stagnation and an inability of a franchise to make major decisions? If you pull the trigger too soon you don't get full return on your prospects, don't know how your prospects could have helped your club, and with a team like the Twins you may lose a window of opportunity. If you pull the trigger too late you still don't get full return on your prospects...or even worse, get stuck with backloads of blocked players whose progress is impeded by lack of growth. But, if you pull the trigger at the right time, you have the potential to not only maximize the return on your players, to not only see hand-picked prospects blossom in your own system...you also can throw a crowbar into that window of opportunity. A window of two years could become five.
In the late 90's and early 00's, Terry Ryan made a series of right decisions and gave the Twins an extended timetable with which to make postseason runs. From 2001 until midway through 2005, the Twins were competetive. For five consecutive seasons, Minnesota has been a good club.
Now, Minnesota is in a precarious situation. In the offseason preceeding 2006, there are large decisions to be made; many of which could fortell how good the Twins will become over the next three or four years. If moves aren't made to improve the offense, to move certain prospects that can't help us out by remaining in the minors, our window of opportunity will continue to close.
It's all a cycle; it's all a balancing act. Terry Ryan has been on a unicycle on a highwire, juggling feathers and swallowing flame-covered swords. How he responds over the coming weeks will give us a clue to our future. Whatever happens, I guarantee you I'm along for the ride.